Lots of woodworking questions. Please help.


Hi all,
I've been working with wood slowing over the last couple years. Most of the work I have done was with screws for joinery and very poor finishing techniques such as no sanding and staining only.
Last summer I worked on a new albeit small entertainment stand. I sanded and poly'd the finish with sanding after each coat followed by wax. It turned out fairly nice, but not showroom quality.
So I have tons of questions(but keep in mind I only have Home Depot as my supplier):
1. Which is preferable: dowels or biscuits for joining? Plus glue correct?
2. How do I get a mirror finish with stain or paint?
I use pine because it's so cheap and easily available. My technique involves sanding with 100 grit and then with something around 200 grit or higher to get the wood to feel like silk, next I apply a wood conditioner (I use all minwax products I should add), then after the recommended wait time I apply stain (regular stain not the stain and poly together mix), I wipe that down after I get the tone I like and wait 24 hours to dry. Then I apply the Minwax Polyurethane with a foam brush and dry for 24 hours, sometimes, I will admit, that spots are still tacky to the touch. I sand this with steel wool (I think it's 00 might be 000), and apply another coat. I do this 3 times then apply the Minwax paste wax following the directions. Now after all this work when you look at the piece in the sun you can still see very fine/small valleys in the piece.
Should I be waiting longer between coats? I'm very impatient should I use the Minwax Polycrylic instead? Also what about paint? I want to learn how to get a painted finished that looks like is was baked on like the finish on a car.
3. How do the other finishing products work? All the oils for example, I've only used the above poly and stain, plus I used the One Step a few times ( I know some people don't like the One Step, but I thought the finish was much richer and had more depth, but still had the same problems "little valleys."
4. What is proper technique for cleaning brushes? I have stayed away from them and wonder if this is part of my problem. I use rags for stain and foam brushes for the poly and pitch them after each use.
5. On to joinery, I've been looking at biscuit cutters and I understand how cuts are made in the edge of boards (say a shelf of a book shelf) but how do you cut biscuits in say the upright parts of the bookshelf? Does the metal "guide" thing on a biscuit cutter rotate 90 degrees up so the front of the cutter is almost completely flush with the board face?
I'm making a new dining room table that I want to have a very thick top. Which one of these is more sound:
Using a planer on 2x10's and jointing them with biscuits to make the top OR using 2x4's on a jointer then jointing them with biscuits?
I own most of the woodworkers tools although they were passed on to me from my grandfather, the one thing I don't own is a planer or biscuit cutter. I'm getting the biscuit cutter for Christmas and will probably buy the planar in the spring if I can afford it (moneys tight as I'm in college)
Eventually I want to get into making solid front doors:
6. What types of wood are these usually made from? Oak? How are they jointed together? Same as above with biscuits and glue?
7. Glueing-- What do you use to remove the excess overflow? I tried just a rag but the glue doesn't completely come away, and then screws up the evenness of the stain being applied after.
Lastly,
8. I did some painting over wood and eventually some spots started to "leak" through it was white paint and these spots were turning yellow. Any cure for this?
Thanks in advance,
Matt
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snipe of a long post........

Matt,
I think you may have asked to many questions in a single post to get a good response. Perhaps someone will take the time to address each one but since the questions are all over the place, the best I'll offer for now is - find your local library and start reading.
You may want to consider grouping your questions in different posts and see how that approach works.
Bob S.
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Check out the mail order suppliers of everything from dowel buttons to S4S hardwood, including about every tool ever imagined.

Biscuits are easier.

Drop the sometimes for 24 hours, and add 24 if you want to be really sure. Also, check temperatures in the finishing room. Never sand or steel wool when the preceding coat is still tacky. And don't use OO or OOO steel wool with finish coats unless you're removing them. Spring for OOOO.

You want a baked on enamel/acrylic/lacquer finish, you need much more experience, and a lot more reading than can be done here.

Try them. And follow directions.

Good brushes help.

RTFM.
2x4s, but with construction grade pine, ain't nothing sound. It is too wet.

Oak. Mahogany. You name it. Cheap ones use biscuits. M&T for the good ones.

Don't let it overflow. Learn to control glue application. You're not whitewashing a barn with the stuff.

Sap/resin staining. Yeah. Coat the wood with shellac before painting. Likely what you're getting is a result of using construction grade lumber.
Get away from pine. If you can't find anything else, use poplar...tulip poplar is lower in cost in most places than is pine, but you won't believe that from looking at big box wood stocks. Even paying shipping, you'll save major money buying from a reputable mill or dealer.
Enjoy.
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.

I assume those little valleys you refer to are the wood grain. You either need to "fill the grain", there are products for this. Grain fillers are a slurry of very fine particles, that you rub into the wood. The fine particles fill the little valleys. Then you can apply a finish.
To get a really flat. glossy finish you will need to "rub out" the finish. A lot of elbow grease and increasingly finer and finer abrasives. The supper high gloss requires automative wet or dry sandpapers (1000+ grit) and rubbing and polishing compounds
Go to barnes and nobles, buy a cup of coffee, and read some of the books on finishing. There are a couple of good comprehensive books. I think an author named Jewitt has written a couple.

Sound like those are the knots. You need to seal them some how. Home depot has several product. One is called "Kilz"
BTW, you may only have a home depot nearby, but there are tons of online sources for finishing and tools. Woodcraft, and lee valley are popular
Mitch

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Matt S wrote:

brush and dry for 24 hours, sometimes, I will admit, that spots are still tacky to the touch. I sand this with steel wool (I think it's 00 might be 000), and apply another coat. I do this 3 times then apply the
Minwax paste wax following the directions.<<
Tacky after 24 hours almost always means green wood. To be blunt, you are screwed. I use Minwax poly on lathe tool handles, and if it is sticky for a couple of weeks, then I know the wood was a lot greener than I thought it was. When the wood is no longer sticky and the MinWax had dried, the wood is ready for a second coat. But that is a task for my old poly on tool handles. Not furniture.
You only distress the finish of your work when you try to sand wet spots. Even if you can mash enough catalysed powder from the surrounding areas of finish into the area to make it seem like it had "dried" it has not cured. There really aren't any shortcuts to a good finish, and certainly lack of patience or improper application (over green wood) will keep you from your goal.
Poly is not well liked for mirror finishes. It is plastic, and it is a film finish. So when you put on more than one coat, you are putting on multiple layers of plastic. As plastic, it may not be hard enough to make into a mirror finish. I have seen lots of shiny work out there that has been finshed with multiple coats of poly, but no "mirror" finish like you would find on a piano.
I have made some custom desks for a client that insisted on poly as they were afraid of water/ink/coffee problems that usually come with desks. I used Minwax thinned to 80% and applied with a bristle pad. After 5 coats (one every 24 hours), it really looked great. Of course, I had put on a home made conditioner first to highlight the grain and to seal the surface so I wouldn't be dealing with high and low spots of absorbtion to screw up the finish. After final finish I let is sit for a week before handling.
I am surprised no one here has said this, but maybe later on in this thread. There aren't any shortcuts to good woodwork, and the finishing aspect is no exception. But I think finishing is where a many screw up, since they consider themselves "woodworkers", not "painters" or "finishers".
A painter that worked for me many years ago told me "the finish is only as good as the prep". That has driven my sanding/prep regimen ever since.
I agree with the "go to the library" and "go to B&N" advice. I have bought almost all of my finishing books at our local half priced outlet. Right now hobby woodworking is more popular than ever, and with the advent of the Asian micropress, there are more books out there than you could imagine that cover everything imaginable.
One last thing, as advised SEARCH this group for info before taking the time to post. If the questions you pose seem too pedestrian to some here they will get nasty fast. There is more info here than on every aspect of woodworking than you can possibly imagine.
Robert
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Matt S wrote:

Too many questions...
Get the Bob Flexner book on finishing.. http://www.leevalley.com/wood/page.aspx?c=2&p=30284&cat=1,190,43047
There are other good ones as well.
Look through the Lee Valley site. http://www.leevalley.com
Lee Valley has lots of good books -- buy a few...
Check some other suppliers. Many give good info for a simple reason -- they want your business.
Start with my links page and go from there. http://woodwork.pmccl.com/Business/linksbusiness.htm
Sharp chisel and a light touch to remove glue -- once it is rubbery.
Sand up through the grades -- 100 (if needed) 120 to 180...
I like biscuits -- simpler for us beginners.

-- Will R. Jewel Boxes and Wood Art http://woodwork.pmccl.com The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it. George Bernard Shaw
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Cool thanks for the replies guys. I'll check into those books. Thanks for the links as well.
I wasn't looking for any one person to answer all the questions, just some quick and dirty answers or for someone with more experience to hit one question with a very good explaination, I should have said that in my original post, but didn't think of it. Sorry for that. But you guys gave me pretty much everything I wanted to know. I'll check out Borders tomorrow to see if they have anything.
I'm going to check out the links right now.
Thanks again,
Matt
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Jeff Jewitt, refinisher/author/teacher has a site with several forums and has a search capability that is very useful. www.homesteadfinishing.com I find his books and video very informative.

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